Impact List 2020: Interview with Rili Djohani, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Coral Triangle Center
Deep under the water, there are billions of marine habitats that protect all aquatic environments and their users. However, humans have heavily exploited our marine environments and threaten the health and stability of the ocean system. Having an early awareness about the continuous degradation of the coastal and marine ecosystem alongside ongoing unsustainable fishing practices, young Rili Djohani joined an ocean conservation organization at the age of 10. Since that time, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Coral Triangle Center have set her goal on improving the management and financial sustainability of marine protected areas and reducing destructive fishing practices in Southeast Asia.
In our insightful interview, Rili Djohani talks about her foundation, projects, and also her experience in detail.
Written by Hesikios Kevin
All image by Rili Djohani & Coral Triangle Center
For the youth who want to learn more about your area of work or passion focuses, how do they begin?
When I was 10 years old, I became a member of a conservation organization. I received colorful educational materials and was able to join field excursions. Because of these experiences, I learned about endangered species and marine parks and I became really interested in marine conservation. I also became aware that we need to do something to protect animals and nature.
What should they know first, and where to look for information besides yourself and your project?
Young people can start by learning to love animals and see themselves in nature. They can learn about nature by watching videos and documentaries. When they get older, they can join diving clubs and learn to appreciate the beauty of our underwater environment while experiencing it firsthand. They can also learn about the threats such as climate change, pollution, and over-fishing.
What are the next steps they could take to start making small changes and making impact on their everyday lives?
They can start by taking steps to prevent ocean plastic pollution. They can recycle, reuse and reduce single-use plastics every day. Simple actions can go a long way such as replacing plastic bags with re-useable bags, using water tumblers instead of disposable water bottles, not throwing garbage into the rivers and ocean, buying sustainable products, and eating sustainable seafood.
What does success mean to you, and what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
For me, success means that Indonesia has well-managed and effective marine conservation areas throughout the country, with thriving coral reefs and healthy fish stocks for generations to enjoy. CTC is also a legacy for me and I’m proud to set-up an Indonesian foundation that inspires and engages communities for long-term marine conservation in the Coral Triangle region. CTC is a local organization with a regional scope and global impact. We aim to reach out to more than 1.5 million people to care about ocean issues by 2025, with a focus on millennials and school children. We continue to strengthen our training programs for practitioners, developing our curriculum and delivery to ensure that we are supporting capacity development for marine resource management in Indonesia and the Coral Triangle.
You have been contributing to this sector for more than three decades. According to your own experience, what are the main challenges that you faced when you first started until now?
The skill and urgency of the problems affecting our oceans, such as climate change, pollution, over-fishing, need quick actions. This is the defining decade and we need to change mindsets and behavior across sectors. This year, the pandemic has shown us a new reality that we experience together globally. It becomes so clear again how connected and dependent humans and nature are in this situation. More than ever, this year we realize that we need to work together at all levels as our environment, economy, and well-being are all connected and need to be addressed simultaneously. We also need to ensure equity and distribution of benefits. The key is partnership across different ministries in government and also with civil society, non-government organizations, local communities, women, youth and the private sector.
Our new reality is also a new opportunity to unite and truly implement our shared goals to care for the environment and our oceans that have given us so much. We have to act now and do our part in this endeavour. Despite the challenging conditions, we at CTC continue to work towards our aim to inspire people to care for the oceans. We remain steadfast in our work on the ground and online to protect our marine biodiversity through our training programs, marine protected area learning sites, learning networks, outreach activities, and interactive programs at our Center for Marine Conservation in Bali. We hope more people can join us in our efforts.
How do you tackle the big challenges and find solutions to the problems?
I worked for almost 30 years now in marine conservation. It is a privilege to do the work that I love with a strong sense of purpose. As an Indonesian national, born and raised in the Netherlands, it was like coming home in 1989 when I surveyed coral reefs from Sabang to Merauke. I was so excited to see turtles in Pulau Seribu then. Although these days I spend more time in the office, being on a 20-day expedition in Indonesia’s Forgotten Islands in November this year is a great way to feel recharged again and reflect why we need to care for the ocean that connects us all.
Another quote that I believe is relevant in my work is this;”The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”. – Robert Swan.